Sydney Leroux is a player who would not only be a starter, but a star, for most women’s national teams. As it is, USA’s exceptional squad strength means that this talented forward often has to settle for a place on the bench, and an ‘impact’ role in the games’ later stages.
The Stars and Stripes’ recent friendly against Russia proved no exception, with Leroux entering the fray at a familiar juncture – with 15 minutes remaining – and her team already 5-0 up. However, while the encounter at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia might have been seen as representing more of the same, Leroux sees cause for encouragement under the team’s current head coach, Tom Sermanni.
Indeed, having been impressed by the gruelling weeks of training and cross-country travel that preceded the Russia match, Leroux has expressed her happiness with the squad rotation policy adopted by the former Australia boss.
“It was a long camp,” Leroux told FIFA.com. “We started in the freezing cold and we ended up in the freezing cold. It was a great camp. Definitely a lot of changes are happening, people are getting chances to show themselves and I think that’s huge. Tom’s done a really good job of keeping things competitive in training and in games. I think that’s the best thing for us right now.”
In USA’s three matches during their January and February camp, they scored 16 unanswered goals. Leroux claimed the only strike of a tightly-contested match against her native country, Canada, in Frisco, Texas before two resounding victories over Sergey Lavrentyev’s Russia, ending in a 15-0 aggregate score. According to Leroux, the key to improving and building on an already successful team has been squad rotation.
“With Pia (Sundhage, former USA coach) I got my 15 minutes at the end of the game and that was my role,” she said after the 8-0 rout of Russia in Atlanta. “I think that Tom has allowed us to create our own roles and see what we can do. For me, it was a good thing because I got to show that sometimes I can play 90 minutes and sometimes I can come in for the last 15, so I’m versatile in that sense.”
Leroux’s role in the team stretches far beyond coming off the bench. The 23-year-old, who will be playing for the Seattle Reign in the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season, has already scored 26 goals at senior international level, and has her sights set on further improvement.
“My personal goals are to be the best I can be for my team," said Leroux. "Obviously our team goal is to continue to be the best in the world and getting better at that."
Stars and Stripes eye Algarve silverware
Sermanni's team are currently involved in the 2014 Algarve Cup in Portugal where they will be looking to defend the title. "Algarve will be a good test for us," Leroux said. "We’ll be playing some really good teams there and I’m excited to see what happens.”
Sermanni’s team meet Sweden before facing Denmark in the final group match for a spot in the placement matches on 12 March. The match against Sweden will be the second time former head coach Pia Sundhage will face USA since returning to her homeland, and Leroux and the team are aware of the challenges ahead.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought game. It’s going to be very different. Against Russia, we were able to get by purely with our athletic ability. When we’re playing teams like Sweden or Japan, sometimes they’re just as athletic as you, so you really have to start thinking more. I think it’s going to be a great test for us.”
Leroux inspires young players across the USA, and she attributes her rise to prominence to her mother, who supported the then 14-year-old in leaving home and chasing her dream. And while Leroux's own self-determination and willpower has been vital, she also highlights the invaluable experience of playing alongside USA’s all-time leading scorer, Abby Wambach.
“I learn something new from her every day," Leroux said. "She’s been amazing as a friend, as a team-mate, as a professional; she’s really taken me under her wing and showed me the way. I’m very thankful for our team and our friendship.”
Leroux will be looking to climb up the goalscoring charts, but more importantly, she will want to be a part of a growing history of success in US women’s football for years to come.